Differential effects on pain intensity and unpleasantness of two meditation practices

Emotion. 2010 Feb;10(1):65-71. doi: 10.1037/a0018440.


Pain is an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience that can be regulated by many different cognitive mechanisms. We compared the regulatory qualities of two different meditation practices during noxious thermal stimuli: Focused Attention, directed at a fixation cross away from the stimulation, which could regulate negative affect through a sensory gating mechanism; and Open Monitoring, which could regulate negative affect through a mechanism of nonjudgmental, nonreactive awareness of sensory experience. Here, we report behavioral data from a comparison between novice and long-term meditation practitioners (long-term meditators, LTMs) using these techniques. LTMs, compared to novices, had a significant reduction of self-reported unpleasantness, but not intensity, of painful stimuli while practicing Open Monitoring. No significant effects were found for FA. This finding illuminates the possible regulatory mechanism of meditation-based clinical interventions like Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). Implications are discussed in the broader context of training-induced changes in trait emotion regulation.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Attention
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cognition
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Meditation* / psychology
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain Measurement
  • Pain Threshold / physiology
  • Pain Threshold / psychology*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology
  • Stress, Psychological / therapy